How do I choose a teacher?
Choosing a tutor can be a difficult decision. You want to find a great teacher and have the best possible learning experience for you or your loved one. So, how do you decide on a teacher? There are many criteria available to help you select the best teacher for you and your specific situation. The views expressed here are entirely my own and based on my opinions and experiences as a teacher. This article covers a range of factors including: price, qualifications, university degrees, teaching qualifications and credentials and experience, to help you come to the right decision.
People say that ‘you get what you pay for’ and ‘buy cheap, pay twice’, but is this the case with teaching?
ARE ALL LESSONS THE SAME?
Price is usually a factor in making any kind of purchase decision, from beans to broadband. If you see a bottle of Coca Cola for sale at £/$/€1 in shop A and for sale at £/$/€2 in shop B, then there is no real decision to make, you will buy cola from shop A. Similarly, when selecting a teacher, it can be tempting to pick based on price alone. However, not all teachers provide lessons at the same level or of the same quality. This means that you cannot simply select a tutor based on price as you would with soft drinks. It would be more accurate to compare looking for a teacher with looking for a laptop. Can you buy a laptop for £/$/€200, yes probably, but is it going to be as good as one selling for £/$/€1,200, clearly not! The same is very much true for teachers and teaching. Teachers charge vastly different prices which are usually as a result of qualifications and experience which we will subsequently summarise.
WHAT ARE YOU PAYING FOR?
When you see the price of a product or service, it is usual to consider what it is you are paying for before making the decision whether you are willing to pay that price. Teachers and teaching is no different. So, what are you paying for exactly?
The teachers time in arranging, booking and scheduling the lesson
Lesson planning, whether this is shared explicitly with the student or not, can be very time consuming
Creation of resources and materials or adopting these from existing sources such as text books (which the teacher must also purchase)
A contribution towards the supplies and equipment costs (e.g. internet, headphones, pens, paper etc.)
Teaching the actual lesson itself
Feedback, debriefing, follow-up or setting homework (as and when required)
Marking any homework (when set) and returning it to the student on time
You may not have realised, or even considered, that all of these different factors go into teaching a single lesson. However, when you take this into account, the rate you are paying a teacher is not actually what the teacher themselves really earns per hour. The amount of time it takes to do all of these out of classroom activities various hugely, but I estimate on average it would be around one hour per class – which effectively halves a teacher’s hourly rate of pay. This means that, the lesson is not quite as ‘expensive’ as it may first look.
Qualifications are probably the easiest way to work out work how good a teacher is likely to be but there is considerably more to think about and consider as I will explain. Let us begin by saying is that having a degree does not necessarily make you a good teacher. The first thing to consider then is university education and degrees.
While a it may not guarantee excellent communication skills, having a degree shows you that the teacher has some level of intelligence and has met the requirements to pass a degree. This is essentially telling you that they are themselves a successful learner. It is also worth considering the grade, course and university to more accurately assess your teachers’ qualifications and how relevant or impressive they actually are. While all three of these are factors are useful indicators, the grade received reveals much more about their effort, intelligence and academic aptitude.
A postgraduate degree is perhaps a better indicator of intelligence, or indeed academic aptitude, as it is more work at a higher level and requires initiate and (self) funding. This is particularly important if you are looking for help with academic English, course work or research papers. For example, a teacher who has themselves completed qualitative research at Master’s level is going to understand your research paper better than someone who has never conducted any research themselves. A PhD indicates this even more so. Again, as with undergraduate degrees, grade classifications offer the best indicator of aptitude.
Teaching qualifications and credentials
This is a very important consideration, if not the most important factor. This is so much so that teaching qualifications could be explored in their own separate article. It is important to note that not all teaching qualifications are equal. There are many, many teaching qualifications out there providing by a range of companies and institutions – which also vary in price and quality. To help you through the quagmire of qualifications, I have arranged these qualifications into four tiers (with tier 4 being the worst and tier 1 being the best).
TIER 4 – TASTER COURSES – 120-HOUR TEFL/TESL/TESOL CERTIFICATE
First of all, TEFL/TESL/TESOL all essentially mean the same thing and one is NOT better than the other. These are very basic qualifications indeed. Essentially, these are entry level qualifications which should be thought of as a way of helping people decide if teaching is for them. These qualifications are cheap and easy to get with some even costing under $20. Notably, many schools and organisations do not consider these types of qualifications to be adequate to get a decent job. A 120 hours might read like a lot at first glance but this is only 5 days worth! Does anyone really think you can learn to teach in this sort of timeframe? No, they don’t! Any teacher who only has this level of qualification has basically taken the easy options which signals: either they are not taking their career seriously, or they view teaching as an ‘easy’ way to make some extra money.
TIER 3 – INITIATE TEACHER – CELTA OR CERTTESOL
These qualifications are what most in the industry consider to the minimum basic qualification to actually teach. Often, they are referred to as ‘initiating’ someone into teaching or as initial teacher training (ITT). For some Tier 3 qualifications are the first ‘legitimate’ qualifications in the list. These qualifications have the benefit of being accredited (validated), rather than taught by, Cambridge University (CELTA) and Trinity College London (CertTESOL). However, these courses can be completed in as little as 4 weeks! Is four weeks really enough time to know everything you need about teaching? Most probably not! These qualifications are at least graded so you can get a sense of how well the teacher did on the course. All in all, they should be regard as a good place to start, but a stepping stone or way-stage, rather than a complete qualification.
TIER 2 – QUALIFIED TEACHER – PGCE OR DELTA OR DIPTESOL
The next tier of qualifications is a significant jump from the previous two. These qualifications have the advantage of actually making you a qualified teacher, particularly in the eyes of the famed British Council. There are different routes to this qualified teacher status (QTS), and each has their own advantages. The PGCE, Postgraduate Certificate in Education, is the UK (and internationally renowned) teaching qualifications that enables you to teach in UK and in International schools. This is a difficult qualification that takes one year full-time to complete – and so it is not surprising it enjoys an excellent reputation. The DELTA is the next step up from Cambridge’s CELTA, and DipTESOL is Trinity’s offering. These qualifications can be completed in three to four months full-time. There is a debate over which qualification is best (clearly the PGCE in my opinion – not least due to its duration) but both do operate at postgraduate level. Crucially, these are substantial qualifications with a sizeable assessed teaching practice component as well as written assignments. Again, these are also graded so can further be used to differentiate between teachers when looking for the very best.
TIER 1 – MASTER TEACHER – MA TESOL OR MA APPLIED LINGUISTICS
The highest level teaching qualification is without doubt a full Master’s degree. While the PGCE and DELTA are both at postgraduate level, they are far from full Master’s qualifications. The MA is a rigorous academic qualification that contains academic assignments, teaching practice and independent research. One of its strengths is that it is an academic qualification that explores practical and theoretical elements in detail. Several teachers opt to do a PGCE, DELTA or DipTESOL first, before doing the MA, which can take them upto two years-full time to complete both qualifications. The key thing here is what having an MA signals, and that is a true dedicate to teaching, regarded as a calling or career, rather than a quick way to make money. The best of the best teachers can further be determined by their MA grades. Would you rather your teacher had 5 days, 4 weeks or 1-2 years training? The answer is obvious and helps us to understand why prices for teachers vary so dramatically.
Qualifications are of course important, but it is qualifications combined with experience that helps make teachers truly stand out. Experience is usually measured in terms of years teaching – which further helps provide a quick way to compare teachers. However, experience covers a lot of different things and when you examine a teacher’s experience you should also consider the following factors:
Teaching years: How many total years teaching? How many full years teaching?
Age range: Have they taught your age range (or age range of your daughter, son etc.) before?
Levels: Have they taught at your specific level before?
Institutions: Where have they taught? Language schools? Primary schools? Secondary schools? Universities?
Countries: Which countries have they taught in? Do they have experience of different nationality students?
Role/s: In what capacity where they working at the institution? Teacher? Lecturer? Manager or Director of Studies?
Duration: How long were they working for each organisation?
Career gaps: Are they a ‘career teacher’? Did they teach for a bit but then try something else or vice versa?
Here, experience is more subjective and it depends on what you are actually looking for in a teacher. Try and match what you are looking for with the teachers direct relevant experience whether that is in terms of age range, level, institutions or any other factor you consider to be important. For example, if you are looking for academic support with your university assignments, then a teacher who has taught in a university is likely a better fit (you might also select a teacher with a Master’s degree as this means they understand university and academic process).
Note: I wrote this article initially for my website but wanted to share it here to help students.